Reboot Alberta

Thursday, March 01, 2007

PC Leadership CampaignDisclosure Doesn't Cut It!

The disclosure of PC Leadership donations just does not cut it. Larry Johnsrude of the Edmonton Journal has a good analysis and he closely reflects my sentiments. The Progressive conservative Party has not done itself “proud” by having no rules around campaign contribution limits and disclosure. The candidates have done the best they could under the circumstances but the fact remains the PC Party created the circumstances.

Anonymous donations of any size are inappropriate in an open and transparent modern and mature democracy. Now put this under the pressure of a very competitive campaign context of a political party leadership. The system assured that nobody really knows anything about what is going on in the campaign and there is no obligation to account.

Under the circumstances what can you expect except what Stelmach and Hancock did by way of disclosure? Dinning is on board and Oberg will fess up shortly. Norris says he has disclosed already but needs to do it formally as a final wrap up if he expect to run again. Dr. Morton is a no show on campaign contribution disclosure and that is simply not acceptable in this day an age.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, (PCPA) of which I am a proud member, blew it. Instead of giving Albertans a sense of openness and transparency in the process this time, we have cast suspicion on the participants. In 1992, when we last selected a leader, the one person one vote model was a shining example of how we were an open process party inviting citizen participation.

We did not have very stringent fund raising rules around political donations in those days. Now we do. The PCPA ought to have adopted the same rules for political contributions applicable at election time and applied them to the 2006 leadership campaign. We did not change with the times and we should have.

After all we (including me) made big deals that we were not just electing a party leader but also a Premier. We (including me) made a big deal about how open, inclusive and accountable we were being as a party. We were letting any citizen who wanted to vote on our leader and for their Premier “in” on the PC Party's decision for a $5 spot to join the party.

We would welcome risking the loss of control over the selection of “our” party leader to the general population for the good of democracy. Damn we were being good. Right? Over 140,000 ordinary Albertans bought into that reality and showed up, ponied up and voted. Special interests formed and many showed up. Many more who were rumored to be “showing up” didn’t, and the rest, as they say, is history. Well that good will the party earned and deserved, has been squandered over the lack of adequate campaign contribution disclosure rules.

Now we have a pall over the process and the participants because of the immediate cash needs of many campaigns, including late comers like Stelmach and Hancock. They needed to collect money, lots of it and very quickly. So anonymous donations were accepted, simply because they were allowed and the need was great. Not good enough but that was the reality.

Here are the key questions we have to come to grips with on the level of disclosure from what we have seen, so far, and on a voluntary basis. Hancock has 7 no-names and one for $10K. Stelmach has about 80 individual contributions plus other unidentified sources amounting to about 1/3 of his total campaign budget. We don't know the distribution of the anonymous contributions. Are they all in the $1000 range or are their some big whoppers in there too? We need a breakdown to be as least somewhat reassured no one is apppearing to try to buy access and influence.

Hancock, Stelmach and others benefited from significant “fundraising” events that are reported as anonymous too, including the events in Edmonton and Calgary to cover some candidate’s campaign deficits. For the record, I am in for $500 of that “fundraising” group. My $500 ticket had a stub with a place for a name, which I filled out and turned in at the door on the evening of the event.

I fully expected that as a condition of attendance I would be seeing my name disclosed on a contributor list. It has not been so I am telling you my contribution now. I made no other financial contribution to any campaign, including Hancock, but donated hundreds of hours of volunteer time to the Hancock campaign over 6 months and about 60 hours to the Stelmach campaign in the last week.

I am not usually on the fund raising side of campaigns but I have picked up a few of the "realities" over the years. Most anonymous donations come from four main sources. First those who belong to other parties, usually higher profile types, who will support another party’s candidate on the quality of his or her character but they don’t want the publicity that would result from disclosure.

Secondly we have people who have made an “undying pledge” to support one candidate but given the nature of their business, often the government portion of which is significant, they feel they have to "hedge their bets" and support virtually anyone else they think will have an outside chance. The “also rans” contributions are almost always anonymous.

Thirdly are true benefactors, usually individually wealthy citizens. They make larger donations but do not to want to be hounded by other charities or fundraisers, including those outside of politics, for money. They don't need to buy access or influence, they already have it.

Occasionally you get some “rube” who thinks they can buy access to power this way by a big anonymous donation, but they are few and far between. That, however, is the central problem. They can’t buy the access and influence in reality, but we tend to think they can and therefore all anonymous donors all fall into the latter scuzzy category in the public’s mind.

I don’t blame the candidates for this fiasco, but they deserve some of the brunt and they are wearing it now. I mostly blame the PC Party of Alberta, my party, for this mess. We are supposed to be the good guys who are best able to manage and govern the province and be the best group to deserve and be granted the Alberta citizen’s consent to be governed.

Well we fell way too short on the issue of campaign contribution disclosure this time. I will be looking for the new legislation Premier Stelmach has promised to clean up this stupidity and it best be done sooner than later…and it better be good!.


  1. Good for you, Ken, for disclosing your own contribution! Part of the problem, here, seems to be the desire of some persons to be anonymous donors. What's up with that? Why insist on anonymity - what motivates that?

    I'm concerned that "charitable" & "non-profit" groups might not have to register as lobbyists in the new legislation. That's grossly unfair! Why should "non-profit" CORPORATIONS get to lobby invisibly while businesses cannot?
    Is it, so they can hide the extent to which they are violating the Charities Directorate's guidelines on political spending by charitable organizations?

  2. Anonymous7:49 am

    Again, Ken does a hack job on Morton while anonymous donors under Hancock's campaign are still not being disclosed. Ken had argued for full disclosure, yet his own candidate is allowed an exemption, a free-pass. This logic is puzzling and illustrates how ideology can restrict logical reasoning.

    Hancock and Stelmach accepted anonymous donors - stating that they needed the money and it was the reality of the time are not excuses. Ken, you've been very hypocritical on this issue: Hancock can skirt the rules but Morton cannot because he has a different ideology.

    "I don’t blame the candidates for this fiasco, but they deserve some of the brunt and they are wearing it now. I mostly blame the PC Party of Alberta, my party, for this mess."

    This is internally inconsistent with your previous writings where you blamed Morton without reference to the party's rules while, at the same time, gave Hancock and Stelmach a free pass.

  3. Anonymous12:01 pm

    No one gets a free pass on thie eric. The PC Party is mostly to blame for all of this to my mind.

    Most candidates have made an effort to disclose and still respect individual privacy. I am saddened to say that is the case today - but it is what it is.

    If everyone one of Morton's contributions were anonymous by request he should say so. If not he is still within his right to not disclose in the "no rules" reality of the campaign.

    I just don't understand why Morton would not disclose ANY contributions - even if he is entitled because he is compliant with the no rules reality.

    No body looks good in this circumstance. We could - and should - have done better.

  4. Anonymous12:31 pm

    Why would he go through the trouble of contacting each and every single donor (there were thousands) to ask them if they want to disclose their names? Many individuals donated to more than one campaign and, thus, do not want their personal info to go out. Why not disclose any? It is the individuals who won't want to disclose their personal information that could create a potential problem? At least Morton was consistent throughout the whole debate on this issue. You were not. You applauded Hancock and Stelmach when they, in reality, took the same measures as Morton. I'm just asking for some balance and not letting your ideology cloud your judgement.

  5. Anonymous1:49 pm

    No ideology at issue here eric. I applaud Hancock and Stelmach??? I don't think so. I say they made an effort - and to my mind the result is insufficient disclosure and the Party is to blame as much as anything.

    Dr. Morton is master of his own universe in this regard. It appears to me that Dr. Morton has not even made the effort to find out if any of his contributors are prepared to be disclosed. We know, for example, he raised funds in B.C. for an Alberta leadership. Why and what influence dfies that have on how he would govern? An open and legitimate question on the mind of citizens.

    He invites a loss of any benefit of the doubt entirely on his campaign by not even making an effort to disclose.

    His right and his choice to make under the "rules" but it also means Albertans get to interpret his actions and make judgements about him, just as they do about all the candidates.

    Either he is refusing or lacking the energy for make an effort to disclose. Whatever, he is choosing and citizens can decide how they wish to interpret that choice and they will pass judgement on him accordingly.

    BTW - Just because someone disagees with you eric does not mean they are driven by ideology - and so what if they were - is that a bad thing?

    If you are worried about Candidate Morton's lack of disclosure, as you appear to be, perhaps you should be contacting him with your concerns and suggesting some alternative approaches to him.

  6. Anonymous4:01 pm

    Yet another war of words between Ken and Eric. I sense a love-hate relationship here ;-)

    Seriously, though, I think you can agree to disagree on this one. In any event, it is moot (in my humble opinion). Morton is not the Premier, and I think that (a) he - Morton that is - is not going to be pushing some contributor's agenda in the next session, and (b) even if he were the kind of person to try, Ed would reign him in.

    I also believe that next time we have to go through a leadership process for the Alberta PC's (which I hope is many years away), new rules will be in place that will provide clear direction on these aspects of fundraising. I certainly think that Stelmach is going to lead reforms within the party on this one. Persons that were delaying this reform are out (Elzinga) or on their way out (Graham).

    I donated to Stelmach's campaign (months before the vote), and I knew that I could have asked for anonymity at the time. The campaign did not widely advertise this fact, but - as Ken pointed out - they were a late starter, and money was tight. So I knew I could have pressed for anonymity, but did not. My name is on the list. Since I prefer to post anonymously, though, you'll have to take me at my word.

    I think people are making a mountain out of a molehill with Stelmach's list (& others). There are only a handfull of donations of a size to raise interest, in my view (catastrophizing over an anonymous $100 donation is just goofy). I certainly think a partial list is better than no list, but if Morton never said he would disclose, I don't see why he has to. If he had become Premier, then yes, I think he would (rightly) have been pressured to do so.

    Maybe I am being cynical, but there appears to be a downside to disclosure and transparency: what I call the annoyance factor. The more you give/disclose, the more people want. At some point, you have to say "screw off and let me do my job". I see this in some areas of the public/private sector where staff can spend an inordinate amount of time just detailing in some little report how they spent their day. Not an especially productive activity, but the management consultants have a field day with it.

  7. Anonymous11:54 am

    Ken, I would venture to say that the "rube" category is the largest of the four groups. People who donate over $1,000 see political donations as an investment. They expect some form of return. Not necessarily as direct patronage but access. As you may know, it can be helpful to a lawyer or accountant's practice to say to a client that they are on a first name basis with a particular cabinet minister or leader. Or, that they are close to power.

    There is always the expectation of a quid pro quo by large donors.

    In fact, I see many of Hancock's contributors falling into the "rube" category. Transalta made an undisclosed donation in excess of $10,000. Telus was a $1,000 to $5,000 contributor. These corporations have a clear expectation of payback later. Similarly, Ralph Young, Landmark Homes and the other land developers and builders have benefited from the sales of provincial lands (even within Hancock's riding).

    I will be comparing the next Queens Counsel list with Hancock's contributors. We'll see how many end up on the list. You and I both know there will be plenty.


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